The Muse

Monday, August 15, 2016

I Don’t Know How I Feel About This

It’s complicated.

When my kids were growing up we lived in San Diego California, home of one of the largest Zoos in the world, and home of #Sea World.

Being residents, and with yearly passes, we frequented both places.

Some of our most poignant times were spent at Sea World. It was not as commercial in those days. It felt wilder then, with more of a natural setting.  It had aquariums, the dolphin, walrus, and sea lions shows, and the featured attraction #The Shamu Show.

We watched as the Killer Whale show aka The Shamu Show advanced from simple to extravagant. I never liked calling them Killer whales, and now people are calling them Orcas, their scientific name.

Before they built the large tanks of today we sat in Southern facing bleachers and burned our noses as we watched Shamu leap from the water and touch a pole so high the whale’s entire body was out of the water.

He circled the tank racing at high speed, splashed the audience, who chose to sit in the “splash zone,” and part of the show was to have a  volunteer, sometimes a child, stand on a platform and have the Orca “kiss” their cheek.

Not anymore.

We stared in awe and fascination as the shows advanced from “dancing” with the whales in the water, to watching as the whale and trainer disappeared under water only to appear seconds later, the whale leaping from the water with the trainer standing on its nose.

It was positively awesome. It made your heart sing. It brought tears to your eyes.

I thought the whales were goodwill ambassadors, showing the people that what had previously been called “Killer Whales,” were now interacting with people as friends.

And the whales seemed to be enjoying themselves.

My two girls learned to swim by having “Shamu rides” that is they would hold onto my back, hold their breath, and I would dive deep under the water, and we would come spurting up to the surface.

Those were glad times.

The last time we visited Sea World, about four years ago, we saw their new big glorious tank with close circuit television screens, a story on screen, but no trainer in the water with the whale.

It was disappointing.

I wondered if the whale having played with people for so long wondered why they no longer played with him.

A whale—not the original Shamu, one named Tilikum, had killed someone.

The whale was known to be aggressive, so why they got into the water with him is a mystery to me.

In my opinion, these smart people acted foolishly.

I once heard of an old man being killed by his “tame” ostrich. The ostrich had attacked him earlier on, but what did the man do? He went into its enclosure again and was kicked to death.

There was fervor over the whale killing incident. The whale had killed someone at his previous establishment, then at night at the Sea world facility he had apparently drowned a homeless man who got within grabbing—or falling into the tank, distance of the whale.

People forget that a wild animal always has wildness in him and that Killer Whales in the wild regularly pull seals from the rocks and eat them.

While driving down the Oregon coast one day my husband and I heard the loud barking of seals, we pulled off the road and looked down into a bay below us. There floated a big black and white Killer Whale. The seals were smart enough to warn the others.

If an animal is known to be a killer, stay out of the water. But, I wonder, should we then pass a law saying that no human ought to go into the water with a whale. Maybe no one ought to go into an enclosure with an ostrich either.

Should Sea world have captured whales from the wild?

I don’t know.

Much was learned from their captivity, and many people fell in love with them and came to realize that animals, previously thought to be vicious can be docile as kittens given the right environment.

After the outcry regarding capturing wild whales, Sea World stopped capturing them, and began breeding them in captivity.

Now that has stopped.

When the present whales die that will be the end of whale shows at Sea World.  There was a documentary made titled “Black Fish,” that my daughter watched, I didn’t, and it changed her mind about keeping the whales in captivity. People were outraged at their treatment.

People ought to be outraged whenever an animal is treated badly, yet many people have championed their cause. They rescued Keiko from a tiny tank in Mexico (Yes, I saw a dog in a crate in Mexico too, but people still crate their dog.) The people who rescued Keiko somehow got a large gorgeous tank at Newport Oregon built for him. During his years there he gained over a ton of weight.  Later he was released into the wild. Where I believe, he was without a family, for he had bonded with people.

It was a tough decision. People wanted what was best for him. I hope he forgave us our ignorance.

It’s tough isn’t it, knowing what the “right” thing is?

People who only know wild animals or livestock, see them as either dangerous, or lacking intelligence, or use them as machines, or for work, food, or entertainment.  I always hated it when as a child I heard that humans have "Dominion over the animals." People took that as a license for power. 

A wild animal can be dangerous when threatened or encroached upon. But to live intimately with an animal shows the human partner how loving they can be. How they form bonds with species other than their own, and that animals, like people, they have individual personalities.

Once I adopted a 5 ½-month-old mustang from the Bureau of Land Management in Burns Oregon. True she had been born at their facility as her mother was pregnant when removed from the wild.  But she was a wild animal.

Within a week she was eating out of my hand, and allowed me to remove the lead rope she had been dragging since we loaded her at the facility. When I released her from her round pen she ran around the paddock at such a speed, I thought, Good heavens, am I ever getting on that animal?

She was the sweetest horse, and so curious. She loved to play with plastic Pepsi bottles in a box.  She was a darling pet, but never a trustable riding horse—but not that well trained either.  I did saddle her and ride her a bit, and she never bucked with me, but she could act a little cuckoo. I remembered the trainer Pat Parelli said to always remember that they were once wild, and still had wildness in them.


People train whales, lions, etc. and once in awhile someone gets hurt. Seeing an animal in such a loving situation people forget they aren’t pussycats. (Have you ever seen a feral cat? Try to hold that animal.)

I was motivated to think about this after I saw #Rachel Jones blog “#Hippie in Heels,” ask the question: “Should We Visit Sea World?”

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